Skip to main content

The Gothic Cathedral


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6

Module description

This module will take a diverse look at one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of Western architecture. Since its creation in France in the middle of the twelfth and until the end of the fifteenth century the great church has dominated - physically, spiritually and often politically - medieval European landscape. The course will consider the extraordinary technical advances which accompanied (and made possible) the construction of cathedrals. It will also trace their development both north and south of the Alps, from the first fully-fledged manifestation of Gothic - the Abbey of St Denis - to the (arguably) last great medieval cathedral, that of Milan.

The approach will not, however, be narrowly stylistic; sculpture and stained glass will be considered as integral part of cathedral design and iconography. The relationship between architecture, liturgy and cult will also form an important part of discussion, as well as the formative influence of architects and patrons.

Finally, the cathedrals will be observed as complex institutions with competing priorities - monastic, secular and political. An essential part of the course throughout will be an assessment of the way in which the cathedrals have been studied, and whether their justifiable hold on our imagination may have, paradoxically, distorted our view of Gothic architecture.

Recommended reading

  • J. J. Alexander and P. Binski, The Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400 (exh. cat. Royal Academy, London, 1986).
  • P. Binski, Westminster Abbey and the Plantagenets: Kingship and the Representation of Power 1200-1400 (New Haven and London, 1995).
  • P. Binski, Becket's Crown: Art and Imagination in England 1170-1300 (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2004).
  • J. Bony, The English Decorated Style 1250-1350. Gothic Architecture Transformed (Cornell, 1979).
  • J. Bony, French Gothic Architecture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (California, 1983).
  • N. Coldstream, Medieval Architecture (Oxford, 2002).
  • P. Draper, The Formation of English Gothic: Architecture and Identity (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2006).
  • Erlande-Brandenburg, The Cathedral: The Social and Architectural Dynamics of Construction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
  • P. Frankl and P. Crossley, Gothic Architecture (New Haven and London, 2000).
  • N. Nussbaum, German Gothic Architecture (Yale, 2000).
  • O. von Simpson, The Gothic Cathedral (London, 1956).
  • P. Williamson, Gothic Sculpture 1140-1300 (New Haven and London, 1986).
  • Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral (London, 1990; revised paperback edition 1992).